World Cup 2010: Feel it, It is Here
The first sights I saw as I descended into Johannesburg are the slag hills. The massive monuments to a not too distant time when this city found its reason for existence in the rich seams beneath its surface. This fitting introduction represents the first act of South Africa, the resources that were its blessing and its curse. But my trip here is evidence that the curtain has fallen on that act: despite unbelievable setbacks, the country is well into its second act on the world stage. The World Cup is both a graduation present and a final exam for the standard-bearer of a continent. How would the country fare?
The first sight I saw as I walked bleary-eyed through passport control in the Johannesburg airport is a massive soccer ball, suspended from the ceiling of the terminal. It was my first hint that the country has caught World Cup fever. The enthusiasm is palpable, from the airport staff wearing Bafana Bafana jerseys to the murals painted on every wall. This theme repeated itself throughout my trip from
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The World Cup experience is not simply formed by 22 players on a field. What we see, hear, and feel around sporting events is often just as important as the game itself in shaping how we think of the game. The best example of this principle in action at World Cup 2010 was, of course, the vuvuzela. The vuvuzela, that much-maligned plastic representation of capitalism at work, may become the lasting symbol of the 2010 World Cup. Those horns acted as an emotional amplifier, whether blown in anticipation of the match, hooted in anger at a bad decision, or joyously sounded after a goal. Those subtleties are lost on television, where viewers simply hear a background buzzing, annoying as it is constant. But in person, the vuvuzela, whatever its origins, is the stamp of South African feeling upon the world game of soccer.
The atmosphere around the games was unlike anything I had ever seen. In Durban, we ate lunch on a terrace overlooking a boardwalk next to the Indian Ocean as all around us, Brazilian and Portuguese fans caroused and sang and blew their vuvuzelas. A group of Zulu drummers appeared and were quickly joined by joyous Brazilians, improvising on their vuvuzelas. The whole scene was infused with an indescribable air of feeling, somehow different from the anticipation before a playoff game or even the rowdiness of a college football tailgate.
The stadiums, too, were modern and fantastic. The one in Durban could stand up to any in the United States. Transportation was efficient and the aspect of everyone involved in the games was cheerful and helpful. The matches themselves were a smashing success for
That is not to say that the country is without its serious problems. As we drove back from the USA-Algeria game through the Mid Rand between Pretoria and Johannesburg, we could not help but see the masses of men wandering the roads in the cold dark. We saw them huddled around their trashcan-fires for warmth; the joy of the stadium seemed a lifetime away. As our car sped along the upraised motorway, I looked out and saw across the plain hundreds of these fires, the watchfires of some destitute army owed decades of back pay, the losers of a battle they never fought, let alone had a chance to win. The problems of crushing unemployment and poverty and lack of opportunities for so many of its citizens can never be touched by a month-long sporting event, no matter how grand and global.
Despite these problems, everyone I spoke to in South Africa had an amazingly positive outlook. They spoke of how the tournament had united the country in ways previously deemed impossible. Of course, they wondered how long this harmony would last after July 11th, but that question looks much more promising than it did even five years ago.
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SABC, the national broadcaster of South Africa, punctuated their coverage of the 2010 World Cup with the slogan “feel it. It is here.” For most of the trip, I puzzled over this choice. Feel it? How could you not? It is here? Of course it is!
By the end, however, I had come to realize that these five words, as well as five words possibly can, encapsulated South Africa’s World Cup. The amazing emotion, the feeling injected into this World Cup by the people of South Africa defined the experience and helped to make it unforgettable. For a country only a generation removed from the horrors of apartheid, the 2010 World Cup finally coming off is an incredible achievement.
Feel it. It is here.
Against all odds, with the eyes of the world and the hopes of a continent upon it, South Africa has in almost all respects been an incredible host. The deeper problems that must be tackled in the longer term still persist, but right now the future of South Africa looks as bright as the gold and stones that first brought the country onto the world stage.